The Hollywood Diversity Officer’s Dilemma: “Everybody’s in a Different Place”

Some change:

The industry has moved quickly to hire and elevate executives focused on diversifying teams and content — in a changing landscape, the complex role “is tiring, but it’s rewarding.”

When DreamWorks Animation executives wanted a fresh perspective on character designs for one of their TV shows recently, they sent the illustrations to Janine Jones-Clark, senior vp of parent Universal’s global talent development and inclusion department. “They were creating an African American character,” Jones-Clark recalls. “My suggestion had to do with authenticity in hairstyle and texture.”

Her note is one of the small ways in which Jones-Clark — and others in Hollywood with the word “diversity,” “inclusion” or “multicultural” in their job title — are increasingly making an impact on not only who their companies hire but also the content they create. Chief diversity officer (CDO) is a relatively new job title; 47 percent of companies in the S&P 500 index have a CDO or equivalent, and 63 percent of those have been appointed or promoted to the role in the past three years, according to a recent study by executive search firm Russell Reynolds Associates. It’s a job with growing prominence in a Hollywood rocked by such social movements as #MeToo and Time’s Up, not to mention evolving audience demographics, and it’s one that requires a unique kind of emotional ambidexterity. Publicly, CDOs cheer on their companies’ progress and tout their inclusion programs, while privately they must nudge the most powerful people inside their organizations toward uncomfortable conversations about workforce and creative decisions.

“In any organization, everybody is in a different place when it comes to inclusion, and you have to meet people where they are,” says Julie Ann Crommett, vp multicultural audience engagement at Disney. “You build trust with a leader or employee that you are a safe person to have a conversation with. Then you can get on the real-real and hear something that they might not express in a wider room. It’s tiring, but it’s rewarding.”

The role has evolved, says Tina Shah Paikeday, one of the Russell Reynolds study’s authors and leader of the firm’s global diversity and consulting services practice. “Historically there was a focus on compliance [with federal laws],” she explains. “But today the successful CDO is able to chip away at the problem, to use data to tell the narrative within an organization.”

CDOs rely on a bag of tricks to get their perspectives across. Tiffany Smith Anoa’i, executive vp entertainment diversity, inclusion and communications at CBS Entertainment, has given dozens of her colleagues copies of the book The Hidden Brain, a data-driven exploration of unconscious bias by Shankar Vedantam. Once a publicist at CBS, Smith Anoa’i pitched the idea of her current role to former CBS executive Nina Tassler with a PowerPoint presentation featuring data on who’s watching TV and who’s buying the products advertised. “At the end of my pitch, Nina said, ‘We would be crazy not to make his happen.’ ”

There are triumphs in the job — Crommett points to Disney’s hiring of more women directors and directors of color, Jones-Clark to Universal’s creation of a program for female composers, one of the moviemaking roles in which women are especially scarce. But there can be disappointments, particularly, CDOs say quietly, when virtually the only people of color in a company are those working in the diversity and inclusion departments.

Whitney Davis, who recently wrote for Variety about her decision to leave a diversity-focused role at CBS, says she grew tired of fighting what felt like a losing battle, particularly when inclusion initiatives discovered talent like Tiffany Haddish, KiKi Layne, Kate McKinnon and Hasan Minhaj, but the company ultimately did not hire them. “It became taxing,” Davis says. “I was working to try to introduce my colleagues to these creatives and they weren’t getting jobs at CBS. I started to question my taste. And then I’d see them go to other networks and be very successful.” Davis sees the value of CDOs’ efforts. At CBS, for example, two of last fall’s new scripted series, God Friended Me and Magnum P.I., feature people of color in the lead roles. “I can’t imagine how far back we’d be without inclusion and diversity departments,” she adds. “But just having people in these departments, that’s not cutting it. Not if your board isn’t inclusive. Not if the people in power aren’t inclusive. If that’s the case, what’s the point?”

Source: The Hollywood Diversity Officer’s Dilemma: “Everybody’s in a Different Place”

Spielberg’s spiel against Netflix’s eligibility for Oscars has minority filmmakers bristling

An angle I hadn’t thought of:

When Steven Spielberg speaks about the business of Hollywood, everyone generally listens and few dissent. But reports that he intends to support rule changes that could block Netflix from Oscars-eligibility have provoked a heated, and unwieldy, debate online this weekend. It has found the legendary filmmaker at odds with some industry heavyweights, who have pointed out that Netflix has been an important supporter of minority filmmakers and stories, especially in awards campaigns, while also reigniting the ongoing streaming versus theatrical debate.

Spielberg has weighed in before on whether streaming movies should compete for the film industry’s most prestigious award (TV movies, he said last year, should compete for Emmys), but that was before Netflix nearly succeeded in getting its first best picture Oscar for Alfonso Cuaron’s “Roma” at last week’s Academy Awards. Netflix, of course, did not win the top award — “Green Book,” which was produced partially by Spielberg’s Amblin Entertainment, did.

Still, Netflix was a legitimate contender and this year, the streaming service is likely to step up its awards game even more with Martin Scorsese’s “The Irishman,” which The Hollywood Reporter said may also gunning for a wide-theatrical release. A teaser ad aired during the 91st Oscars for the gangster drama said “in theatres next fall,” instead of the “in select theatres” phrasing that was used for “Roma.”

But Netflix also isn’t playing by the same rules as other studios. The company doesn’t report theatrical grosses, for one, and it’s been vexing some more traditional Hollywood executives throughout this award season and there have been whispers in recent weeks that a reckoning is coming.

Now, Spielberg and others are planning to do something about it by supporting a revised film academy regulation at an upcoming meeting of the organization’s board of governors that would disqualify Netflix from the Oscars, or at least how the streaming giant currently operates during awards season.

This year “Roma” got a limited theatrical qualifying run and an expensive campaign with one of the industry’s most successful awards publicists, Lisa Taback, leading the charge. But Netflix, operates somewhat outside of the industry while also infiltrating its most important institutions, like the Oscars and the Motion Picture Association of America. Some like Spielberg, are worried about what that will mean for the future of movies.

“Steven feels strongly about the difference between the streaming and theatrical situation,” an Amblin spokesperson told IndieWire’s Anne Thompson late last week. “He’ll be happy if the others will join (his campaign) when that comes up. He will see what happens.”

An Amblin representative said Sunday there was nothing to add.

But some see Spielberg’s position as wrong-minded, especially when it comes to the Academy Awards, which requires a theatrical run to be eligible for an award. Many online have pointed out the hypocrisy that the organization allows members to watch films on DVD screeners before voting.

Filmmaker Ava DuVernay tweeted at the film academy’s handle in response to the news that the topic would be discussed at a board of governors meeting, which is comprised of only 54 people out of over 8,000 members.

“I hope if this is true, that you’ll have filmmakers in the room or read statements from directors like me who feel differently,” DuVernay wrote.

Some took a more direct approach, questioning whether Spielberg understands how important Netflix has been to minority filmmakers in recent years.

Franklin Leonard, who founded The BlackList, which surveys the best unproduced scripts in Hollywood, noted that Netflix’s first four major Oscar campaigns were all by and about people of colour: “Beasts of No Nation,” “The 13th,” “Mudbound” and “Roma.”

“It’s possible that Steven Spielberg doesn’t know how difficult it is to get movies made in the legacy system as a woman or a person of colour. In his extraordinary career, he hasn’t exactly produced or executive produced many films directed by them,” Leonard tweeted Saturday. “By my count, Spielberg does one roughly every two decades.”

It’s important to note that Netflix didn’t produce “Beasts of No Nation,” “Mudbound” or “Roma,” but rather acquired them for distribution. But if Oscar campaigns are no longer part of the equation in a Netflix-partnership, top-tier filmmakers are likely to take their talents and films elsewhere.

Others, like “First Reformed” filmmaker Paul Schrader, had a slightly different take.

“The notion of squeezing 200+ people into a dark unventilated space to see a flickering image was created by exhibition economics not any notion of the ‘theatrical experience,”‘ Schrader wrote in a Facebook post Saturday. “Netflix allows many financially marginal films to have a platform and that’s a good thing.”

But his Academy Award-nominated film, he thinks, would have gotten lost on Netflix and possibly, “Relegated to film esoterica.” Netflix had the option to purchase the film out of the Toronto International Film Festival and didn’t. A24 did and stuck with the provocative film through awards season.

“Distribution models are in flux,” Schrader concluded. “It’s not as simple as theatrical versus streaming.”

One thing is certain, however: Netflix is not going away any time soon and how it integrates with the traditional structures of Hollywood, like the Oscars, is a story that’s still being written.

Sean Baker, who directed “The Florida Project,” suggested a compromise: That Netflix offered a “theatrical tier” to pricing plans, which would allow members to see its films in theatres for free.

“I know I’d spend an extra 2 dollars a month to see films like ‘Roma’ or ‘Buster Scruggs’ on the big screen,” Baker tweeted. “Just an idea with no details ironed out. But we need to find solutions like this in which everybody bends a bit in order to keep the film community (which includes theatre owners, film festivals and competitive distributors) alive and kicking.”

Hollywood Diversity Report Finds Progress, But Much Left To Gain

While I always find these annual reports interesting and important, particularly enjoying sharing it this year from LA:

Gains have been made for women and people of color who work in movies and TV, but the numbers remain a long way from proportionately reflecting the U.S. population, according to a new study from UCLA.

The annual Hollywood Diversity Report looks at diversity both in front of and behind the camera. It also looks at box office and ratings.

The report states that evidence continues to suggest “America’s increasingly diverse audiences prefer diverse film and television content,” and that “diversity is essential for Hollywood’s bottom line.”

The report found that many top-rated, scripted broadcast TV shows have diverse casts. However, the report also notes that while people of color make up nearly 40 percent of the U.S. population, just a fraction of that number work as film writers (12.6 percent) or directors (7.8 percent).

The report also shows the number of female film directors nearly doubled from 2016 to 2017 — but only to about 12.6 percent of all directors.

Darnell Hunt is a professor of sociology and African-American studies at UCLA and co-authored the study. He notes how industry attitudes toward diversity have changed since his group’s first study, published in 2014.

“When we started to study diversity … it was kind of seen as a luxury, as something that you’d get around to but it’s not what’s driving day-to-day business practices,” Hunt says. “Over time, as it became clear that audiences were becoming more diverse and that they were demanding diverse content, diversity itself was seen as a business imperative. Like, ‘We have to figure out ways to create more diverse products because that’s what today’s increasingly diverse audiences are demanding.’ That’s a relatively new phenomenon that … most people would not have been talking about that, you know, five, 10 years ago. Today, everyone’s talking about it.”

Muslims Are Having A Hollywood Moment

Of note:

On the last day of taping for a new 10-part Web series called East of La Brea, the cameras are set up at a local mosque for a scene about a 20-something black Muslim woman who’s praying. Suddenly her phone rings and the quiet space fills with raucous and racy lyrics from a pop song. Around her, older women shoot her shady stares.

This show is one example of what appears to be a shift in Hollywood. On TV and on online streaming services, Hollywood watchers say more Muslim characters than ever before are showing up in sitcoms and dramas. The characters they portray are more nuanced and more complicated than usual. In part, that’s because many Muslims themselves are writing these shows and characters.

East of La Brea is a show about being in your 20s and figuring out life against the gentrifying backdrop of Los Angeles, told through two main characters, roommates who are Muslim. But that’s not the entirety of the women’s storylines, says Sameer Gardezi, a Pakistani-American screenwriter and the creator of the show.

“I really feel like when people watch this it’s going to feel like [it is] an LA story,” Gardezi says. “Being Muslim is part of them, we don’t ignore that, but at the same time their problems aren’t necessarily faith based; they are based on other aspects that I feel are more relevant to what it means to lead an American life.”

Things like paying rent, feeling lost in a dead-end job and dealing with addiction in a family.

The Web series is the first project from Powderkeg, the digital media company founded by director, writer and actor Paul Feig, known for directing films like Bridesmaids and creating the show Freaks and Geeks. The company was founded to uplift underrepresented voices.

East of La Brea follows the friendship of two Muslim women of color, one black and one Bangladeshi-American. It was created with a grant from Pop Culture Collaborative, an organization whose goal is to boost authentic stories about minority communities, and in collaboration with the Muslim Anti-Racism Collaborative. The production is being partially funded by Lyft Entertainment and the Chicago-based Pillars Fund, a fund to bolster American Muslim voices.

It’s one of several projects by and about Muslims that are in the pipeline or have recently debuted in the entertainment industry. But Gardezi says this story is just one American Muslim story.

“There are so many different versions and my hope would be that everyone gets a shot at telling their version,” he said. “So it doesn’t feel like oh, this is the one Muslim show that needs to make it.”

Communities of color and minorities in Hollywood feel that that is often the way it happens: They get one shot to show that their characters are marketable, one shot to reflect the entirety of incredibly diverse and complicated communities. Gardezi says it’s impossible to do that with one show.

The Trump presidency inspired new Muslim content

But Muslims are embracing the moment. Right now, there’s an appetite for content including or about their communities in part it is because Muslim writers like Gardezi, who has written for Modern Family and Outsourced, are creating their own content. But a lot of the interest is because the entertainment industry itself is reacting to anti-Muslim and anti-immigrant sentiment from Donald Trump.

When Trump announced his candidacy in 2015, followed months later by a call for a “complete and total shutdown” of Muslims entering the country, the Hollywood bureau at the Muslim Public Affairs Council, MPAC, got a lot more popular.

“The phones were ringing off the hook,” said Sue Obeidi, the Hollywood Bureau director.

She consults with studios, production companies and writers to help them create more authentic Muslim characters.

“We’re up against decades of storytelling that is inaccurate many times, that is racist often and very stereotypical,” she said.

Among the tropes, she said, are portrayals of women as chattel, who don’t have identities, or Muslims portrayed only as gas station owners, taxi drivers or violent villains.

Obeidi says it’s an uphill battle, but things are changing. She starts to list the number of characters on mainstream shows on a white board.

“A Muslim surgeon on Grey’s Anatomy; a superhero on DC’s Legends of Tomorrow; an LGBTQ hijabi Muslim (she said Hijabi which is an adjective, Hijab is the article of clothing, Hijabi is used to describe someone who wears the Hijab) on The Bold Type; a pork-loving, alcohol- drinking Muslim on Master of None.”

When writers come to her for advice, Obeidi reminds them that these Muslim characters might be the only Muslims some people ever meet. She tries to help them get the language right, for example in scripts that use the term Allahu akbar, which means God is great in Arabic, the language of the Qu’ran.

“You’ve seen many TV and film projects that have Allahu akbar being used in very violent scenes,” she said.

She negotiates to try to get writers to take it out or offset it with happy scenes like using the term Allahu akbar at a wedding or a dinner party. Because for Muslims it’s a beautiful phrase portrayed as ugly. And the impact can have profound ramifications in real life.

“So someone hears Allahu akbar when they’re dining out and all of a sudden you know they’re calling 911 because they think a family is doing something bad,” she said. “When all they’re saying is God is great.”

A lack of diversity in Hollywood and other places means the clichés and the distortions can prevail. Despite progress, Hollywood still struggles with reflecting a more and more diverse America. The Hollywood Diversity Report, released by UCLA in 2018, shows people of color still lag in all key jobs in the industry, from leading roles to creators of content.

That’s why this moment feels like a turning point for Muslims, Obeidi and others say.

Not every project is incredible material. Many positive Muslim characters fall into two camps that a lot of Muslims find frustrating: one, the Muslim hero fighting terror; the other, the confused Muslim who abandons his culture for a secular life. Both are storylines unrecognizable to a lot of Muslims.

That’s why the content in the pipeline today, being written by and about Muslims for large audiences, is so anticipated. There’s Hassan Minhaj’s weekly comedy show on Netflix that begins this month; an autobiographical sitcom for ABC being developed by Maysoon Zayid, a Palestinian-American comic with cerebral palsy; and a new sitcom called Ramy on Hulu, developed by Ramy Youssef, who is following in the path of iconic comics who came before him turning standup into a sitcom like Seinfeld.

Islam is suddenly cool

On a recent night at the Hollywood Improv, Youssef is headlining, joking about all the things that make him who he is: a millennial, a practicing Muslim trying to be good, an American, the son of Egyptian immigrants.

He also jokes about how, in LA, suddenly people think Islam is cool. “I was at a juice shop. I was talking to this woman telling her about Ramadan, she works there. She was like, ‘oh My God that’s sounds so amazing. I’m gonna do it this weekend.’ She said it like it was Coachella.”

After his standup performance he talks about how he and his friends joke about approaching religion like a menu. Ramy doesn’t drink, doesn’t do drugs but he does have premarital sex. That’s his arbitrary line, he says.

“We call it Allah cart. We’re kind of just picking and choosing like ‘Well, this is my deal with God,’ ” he said.

He hopes Ramy demonstrates how all kinds of people have their deal with God.

“In my standup I like to get dark, I like to get weird, I like to get uncomfortable,” he said. “I feel like when an immigrant family or when a family that is maybe a group that’s not well represented, when people try and put them on television, they go out of their way to make them look amazing and look perfect.”

His show won’t do that.

“I just was really excited about the idea of making Muslims look imperfect,” he said. “Not create something that was some P.R. thing, but create something that was, you know, really just a realistic portrayal of what we go through, how we are.”

Sameer Gardezi, the East of La Brea writer, says he doesn’t think that any one show can be the breakout moment for Muslims, when the communities are so diverse, nuanced and different from person to person, from place to place.

“That is the flexibility and the privilege that I think white communities have is that they’re allowed to fail in Hollywood and no one really bats an eye,” he said. A new project will still be funded.

“So that’s the point that we have to get to,” Gardezi said.

Source: Muslims Are Having A Hollywood Moment

What’s An Inclusion Rider? Here’s The Story Behind Frances McDormand’s Closing Words : The Two-Way : NPR

Will be interesting whether the inclusion rider gains momentum (A-listers have the negotiating power):

“I have two words to leave with you tonight, ladies and gentlemen: inclusion rider.”

Two simple words they may be, but when Frances McDormand closed her acceptance speech with them at the Academy Awards, not a whole lot of people had heard those terms paired that way. The big spike in Google searches for the phrase Sunday night reflects the frantic clatter of people across the world summoning those key words.

So, what is an inclusion rider, exactly?

Simply put: It’s a stipulation that actors and actresses can ask (or demand) to have inserted into their contracts, which would require a certain level of diversity among a film’s cast and crew.

For instance, an A-list actor negotiating to join a film could use the inclusion rider to insist that “tertiary speaking characters should match the gender distribution of the setting for the film, as long as it’s sensible for the plot,” Stacy L. Smith explained in a 2014 column that introduced the idea in The Hollywood Reporter.

Smith, who directs the Annenberg Inclusion Initiative at the University of Southern California, told NPR’s Mary Louise Kelly she had “absolutely no idea” McDormand would bring up the concept at the Oscars. “But,” Smith added, “talk about being elated and thrilled to hear those two words broadcast around the world.”

Smith has pushed for years for more diverse representation in film — delivering a TED Talk on the topic while she was at it — and the inclusion rider has been a crucial arrow in her quiver.

“The goal really is to figure out: How do we move from all the lip service in Hollywood to actually see the numbers that we study every year move?” Smith said.

And those numbers have been stark. Here’s a brief look at some of the findings she and her colleagues published last year in a study of 900 films across a decade-long span:

  • Just 31.4 percent of speaking characters were female, even though they represent a little more than half the U.S. population.
  • Women represented 4.2 percent of the directors, and just 1.4 percent of the composers.
  • About 29 percent of speaking characters were from nonwhite racial/ethnic groups, compared with nearly 40 percent in the U.S.
  • Only 2.7 percent of speaking characters were depicted with a disability, despite the fact that nearly 1 in 5 people in the U.S. has one.

Though Smith does not believe there are many film stars yet who have pushed for an inclusion rider, she said some indeed have asked for it. Smith said she and her colleagues work with civil rights attorney Kalpana Kotagal to craft language for these actors in their contract negotiations.

And with the #MeToo and Time’s Up movements, which are working to call attention to sexual harassment and workplace inequality, Smith said she thinks something of a sea change may be underway.

“I think there’s an appetite now to ensure that equity and inclusion are part of the process in telling these stories,” she said.

The actress won an Oscar for her leading role in Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri. And not long after she picked up her statuette from the presenters, she put it down to ask all the female nominees in the building to stand: “Look around, everybody,” she said, “because we all have stories to tell and projects we need financed.”

Then, she broke out the those two little words that made a big splash online.

“I just found out about this last week,” McDormand told reporters after the ceremony, referring to the inclusion rider concept. “And so, the fact that I just learned that after 35 years of being in the film business — we’re not going back.”

Ronan Farrow, one of the journalists who helped bring attention to the allegations of sexual harassment and assault against Hollywood megaproducer Harvey Weinstein, told NPR’s Rachel Martin that McDormand’s moment shows an equity movement “trying to turn this into more than just talk.”

“It’ll be interesting to see if there is an uptick in the use of [inclusion riders],” Farrow said. “This is going to be the struggle when it comes to representation, when it comes to harassment and assault. Is there going to be follow-on? Are the contracts going to change? Is the legislation going to change? Will the bylaws of the professional organizations change?”

If you ask McDormand, that answer is clear.

“The whole idea of women ‘trending’? No. African-Americans ‘trending’? No. It changes now,” she said after the Oscars. “And I think the inclusion rider will have something to do with that — right? Power and rules.”

via What’s An Inclusion Rider? Here’s The Story Behind Frances McDormand’s Closing Words : The Two-Way : NPR

ICYMI: The Hollywood Acting Coach Under Fire for Urging Students to Pose as Hispanic

Revealing:

A recently-leaked audio clip, which appears to reveal a well-known Los Angeles-based acting teacher named Lesly Kahn advising a student to change her name and present as Latinx, has been circulating on social media.

The Daily Beast spoke with the woman who recorded the conversation, who asked to remain anonymous. She confirmed that it was a recording from an intro acting class of Kahn’s last Saturday.

In the controversial clip, Kahn can be heard urging an aspiring actress to change her name to “Rosa Ramirez,” insisting that, “Just the fact that your name is Rosa Ramirez is gonna get you a meeting.” When the young woman, who describes herself as “100% Ashkenazi Jewish,” says that no one has ever told her to change her name, Kahn expresses incredulity.

After confirming that the woman isn’t already on IMDb, Kahn proceeds to outline a plan of action for “Rosa Ramirez,” telling her to “wear something fucking red, wear some fucking sparkly earrings” and get new headshots taken. After reiterating that she should “come up with the most Latin name you can come up with,” Kahn further advises her to “stop admitting to being a huge Jew” because “it’s just not going to help you.” In the background, others can be heard laughing as Kahn says to “keep us posted” on “the saga of Rosa Ramirez.” Later, Kahn even advises the student to document her transformation on Instagram, suggesting that the exposure might be able to help the not-currently-working actress book a series.

The woman who recorded the interaction told The Daily Beast that it wasn’t the only disturbing conversation she witnessed in Kahn’s intro acting class. She recalled that, after the recorded incident, there was a point where the students were asked to share their biggest weaknesses as actors. One woman responded that “her weaknesses were that she is white and old.”

“I just sat there like ok, cool, here we go again,” the woman who recorded the class told The Daily Beast. “This was Lesly’s opportune moment to shut this all down, but of course, every Caucasian female in the room was like, ‘Oh yeah, me too!’ and then the original woman said, ‘I mean, I just have to say it, it’s racist.’”

When she tried to speak up, the woman responsible for the leaked audio clip alleges that Lesly said something along the lines of: “I’m not willing to have this conversation.”

“I’m just sitting there soaking this all in,” she recalled, “being a woman of African descent thinking, ‘Yeah, must be so hard for all of you white people to get jobs in Hollywood!’ That could have been the moment to address what had been said, but instead I was shut down.”

While she had had every intention of joining the group when she first arrived, she left class and told the office that she wouldn’t be coming back. After describing the uncomfortable “Rosa Ramirez” incident, she was given two email addresses to reach out to with her complaints. She told The Daily Beast, “I of course emailed them immediately as soon as I got home, and neither one of them has reached out to me.”

She confessed that she was “honestly kind of stressed out” by how the story blew up, adding, “I’m not out for attention.” In fact, she wasn’t recording with the intention of publishing anything, but rather for her own class notes. She shared the clips with “some of my friends of Latin descent” in an attempt to gauge if the interaction was as disturbing to them as she had perceived it to be. “And so one friend gave it to another friend, and that’s how it’s gotten around,” she explained.

“Equality feels like oppression when you’re accustomed to privilege.”

Reflecting on Kahn’s behavior, she said, “It’s not ok for her to be out there preaching this to fresh-faced people who may be new to this city and know that she has a reputation, and take everything she says to be gospel truth. Let’s say this girl goes out there like, ‘My name’s Rosa Ramirez,’ and then everybody finds out that she’s of Jewish descent. She’s going to look really stupid, and there goes her career.”

She added: “Equality feels like oppression when you’re accustomed to privilege. At the end of the day, that’s what it is, and that’s why so many people are crying right now, because it’s like ‘oh my goodness, there are other people getting things,’ but that doesn’t mean there’s any less for you.”

According to their website, Lesly Kahn & Company claims to offers “real-world career guidance and feedback” to actors, in classes that include acting essentials, technique clinic and comedy intensive. Additionally, they provide career counseling, on-set coaching and private classes. The website warns that LK & Co. isn’t for “the faint of heart,” adding, “We want you to work your butt off now, so that soon you can live your dream.” Their Facebook page boasts frequent shout-outs to former and current students. On February 22, they postedan article about One Day at a Time, the Netflix reboot that centers around a Latinx family in Los Angeles, captioned, “Kinda thrilling for me to see so many Kahnstituents working together. Ed Quinn, Todd Grinnell, Gloria Calderon Kellett and Isabella Gomez—just wow.”

Kahn’s bio lists a BFA in Acting from NYU and an MFA in Acting from The Yale School of Drama. Writing on her own experience in the industry on the Lesly Kahn & Company website, Kahn recalled, “Everything was out of my control: would I ever GET an audition? If so, when? How? Would the role be right for me? Would ‘They’ think it was right for me? What were ‘They’ looking for? Who were ‘They’ anyway? How should I look? What should I wear?!”

She concluded, “Of course, I couldn’t do anything about any of it. Still can’t. Neither can you. But if you’re willing to try some stuff, I can probably fix it so that, at the very least, you can always count on your acting. Wouldn’t that be a relief?”

Reached by phone, the office of Lesly Kahn & Co. referred The Daily Beast to Lesly Kahn’s social media statement. In the statement, which was released on her Twitter and Facebook pages on Monday, Kahn wrote, “I sincerely apologize for my recent comments. I believe in diversity and inclusion in the arts and in all areas of life. As a Jewish woman, I understand the pain that can come from being discriminated against. On behalf of myself and my company, the most sincere apology is extended to my students, current and former, and all others affected. I deeply regret the offense my words have caused. I value and respect people of all ethnic backgrounds, am extremely sorry and will use this learning experience to ensure against that type of incident in the future.”

When asked about Kahn’s statement, the woman who recorded the incident responded, “She had to do that to save face,” adding, “She’s not sorry for what she said, she’s sorry she got caught. Her heart’s not changed. She’s still the same person she was on Saturday.”

Dani Fernandez, one of the individuals who’s shared the audio clip on social media, is a former student of Lesly Kahn’s. Comments on Fernandez’s social media postings seem to illustrate a pattern of disturbing behavior in Kahn’s acting classes. One commenter recalled their negative experience in an intro class at Lesly Kahn & Company, alleging, “Some of the highlights were telling students to look up porn on their phone to get in the mood. Asking a girl if she’s ever done anal in front of the class.” The commenter, who wishes to remain anonymous, told The Daily Beast that the class they attended was not personally led by Kahn.

Sarah Ann Masse is an actor, comedian and writer who also took an intro class at Lesly Kahn & Company. Masse told The Daily Beast that she was first put off by comments that Kahn made in class. “She started talking about how she had been an actor, and she felt she struggled because she looked Jewish, and there were very few parts for Jewish-looking actors,” Masse recalled. Kahn eventually explained that she got a nose job “to look less Jewish.”

She took the class with her husband, who stayed behind and talked with Kahn after Masse had gone to check her class recommendations in the office. When they met up at the car, Masse says that her husband informed her, “I was talking to Lesly, she was crazy complimentary of you, talking about what a talented actress you were, but she told me that she thought you needed to get a nose job or else you wouldn’t get work.” Both Masse and her husband were disturbed by the alleged conversation. “My reaction was to be really angry, because first of all I think that for anyone, but especially for an acting teacher to suggest body modifications to their students, is super destructive,” Masse told The Daily Beast. “I was also really angry that she said it to my husband and not to me.”

Masse alleges she called Lesly Kahn & Company to report the exchange, and says that the man at the desk was “very upset and apologetic,” saying that Lesly would reach out to her. Masse never heard back from Kahn. She told The Daily Beast that she subsequently wrote about her experience in an all-women’s Facebook group, and “many people” came forward with similar stories of being urged by Kahn to change their appearance or undergo cosmetic surgery.

When the audio clip of Kahn leaked, Masse “was horrified.” She observed, “It’s bad enough to tell young women that they need to modify their bodies to have a career, but then she starts playing this ‘game’ of let’s pretend to be a different race, let’s pretend to be a different ethnicity—as though race and ethnicity are things that you can just put on or adopt…I think there’s this myth going around in the industry right now that it’s really hard if you’re a white actor because everybody cares about diversity, and that’s not true.” She concluded, “If [a role] is clearly supposed to be Latinx and you send in a bunch of white actors pretending to be that, you’re responsible for perpetuating the whitewashing and brownfacing that goes on in this industry.”

While Masse disclosed that she was nervous that speaking out about Kahn could result in professional blacklisting, she told The Daily Beast, “I can’t stand by and say nothing when I know the truth about my experience.”

Another performer, who wishes to remain anonymous, told The Daily Beast that Lesly Kahn suggested that she get collagen injections, a nose job, and a chin lift during an intro class, reportedly saying, “It’s really hard to get work when you’re too Jewish-looking.”

Buried deep in Lesly Kahn and Company’s five-star reviews on Yelp, it’s possible to find a few buried testimonies that mirror the leaked audio. In one negative review from 2016, a Yelp user wrote, “Lesly and her assistants also spent most of class complaining that everyone who was booking was ‘Latin and 17’ and if they could they’d ‘make us all 17 and Latin,’” adding, “Kinda racist and also inaccurate.”

On Twitter, Fernandez condemned “the mentality that Latinos are taking all the acting jobs (which is so far from the truth) and therefore white people should be allowed to do this.”

Articles and studies consistently show that Hollywood has a ways to go in terms of inclusionand rightful representation. A 2017 piece in The Verge pointed out that, “While Latinos make up 17 percent of the US’s population, television representation of Latinos in 2017 lagged behind at a mere 8 percent, the greatest racial disparity among minorities.”

When a self-identified Jewish woman tells a student that her only chance for success is presenting as Latinx, she’s playing into the paranoia that white performers are being pushed aside for people of color. This seemingly indefensible position is harmful on multiple levels, implying that performers of color who are finally being cast are merely filling quotas, or are being hired for their ethnicity as opposed to their talent or skill.

Hollywood Diversity Study Finds ‘Mixed Bag’ When It Comes To Representation

The latest report:

The global box office success of Black Panther is no surprise to UCLA sociologist Darnell Hunt. His annual report on Hollywood diversity argues that movies and TV shows with diverse casts and creators pay off for the industry’s bottom line.

Hunt says Black Panther, for example, “smashed all of the Hollywood myths that you can’t have a black lead, that you can’t have a predominantly black cast and [have] the film do well. It’s an example of what can be done if the industry is true to the nature of the market. But it’s too early to tell if Black Panther will change business practices or it’s an outlier. We argue it demonstrates what’s possible beyond standard Hollywood practices.”

The fifth annual diversity report is subtitled, “Five Years of Progress and Missed Opportunities,” suggesting that America’s increasingly diverse audience prefers diverse film and television content. The study reports that people of color bought the majority of movie tickets for the five of the top 10 films in 2016, and television shows with diverse casts did well in both ratings and social media.

Hunt’s team crunched the numbers for Hollywood’s top 200 films and 100 TV shows from 2015 to 2016. What they found, according to Hunt, was a “mixed bag” that over time shows a pattern: “Two steps ahead, one step back. But at the end of five years, we see there’s not much progress.”

The report states that people of color make up nearly 40 percent of the U.S. population, yet they remain underrepresented on every front on all platforms, including lead roles, writers, directors and showrunners. It finds the same for the talent agents who serve as important industry gatekeepers.

The report also shows that despite making up more than half the population, women remain underrepresented. They gained some jobs in film and TV, but as film directors, they were outnumbered seven to one.

Hunt says there are a few bright spots in television: Broadcast TV and children’s series are increasingly diverse and do well in the ratings. “Most babies born in America today are not white,” Hunt notes, “so if you look at children’s programming, it’s unmistakable that you must have diversity, otherwise the show fails.”

Emmys: How to Get Away With the Bare Minimum of Diversity

Sharp commentary:

Sunday morning, hours before this year’s Emmys ceremony, Being Mary Jane actress Gabrielle Union tweeted: “I’ve been doing TV since 1995. This will be my 1st time going to the Emmys & I’m presenting an award! 22 yrs later. #OvernightSuccess.”

The actress’ first credited appearance was in an episode of Saved by the Bell: The New Classand while that might not be the type of show that garners you an Emmys invite, it’s surprising that in 22 years as a successful actress Union hasn’t even been at the ceremony. But then again, she’s a black woman in Hollywood, so it’s not really surprising, is it?

This moment for Union comes two years after Viola Davis gave her a shoutout in her historic win as the first black woman to win a best actress in a drama Emmy. Awarded a statue for her role in How to Get Away With Murder, Davis who traded in roles like the one in The Help where she played a maid, Davis put her community to task for its lack of inclusion. “In my mind, I see a line. And over that line, I see green fields and lovely flowers and beautiful white women with their arms stretched out to me, over that line. But I can’t seem to get there no how. I can’t seem to get over that line,” Davis said, quoting Harriet Tubman. She followed the quote by saying: “The only thing that separates women of color from anyone else is opportunity. You cannot win an Emmy for roles that are simply not there. So here’s to all the writers, the awesome people that are Ben Sherwood, Paul Lee, Peter Nowalk, Shonda Rhimes, people who have redefined what it means to be beautiful, to be sexy, to be a leading woman, to be black. And to the Taraji P. Hensons, the Kerry Washingtons, the Halle Berrys, the Nicole Beharies, the Meagan Goods, to Gabrielle Union: Thank you for taking us over that line. Thank you to the Television Academy. Thank you.”

Two years after the first best actress in a drama Emmy was awarded to a black woman shouldn’t be the year you pat yourself on the back. Especially not when Lena Waithe on Sunday was the first black woman to win an Emmy for best writing in a comedy. Or a night when Donald Glover was the first black male to win for comedy directing. Or a night where Riz Ahmed was the first male actor of Asian descent to win an acting Emmy. When we’re still in a business of firsts, you can keep your congratulations and you can keep your jokes about diversity, too. Sunday’s host, Stephen Colbert, followed in the footsteps of many white awards-show hosts who love making jokes about diversity to a room where there’s less black people in it than Williamsburg.

Because for an industry that loves to pretend it’s inclusive and diverse whenever awards season rolls around (like when Moonlight won an Oscar this year), it’s the bare minimum of diversity. The shows that these diverse nominees are awarded at are usually full of white people. The hosts are usually white—there hasn’t been a non-white Emmys host since Bryant Gumbel (don’t ask) in 1997. And the diversity usually extends to white women and black men. It’s true, women probably wouldn’t win any damn awards if they didn’t have separate acting categories, but the women that are nominated in these categories are usually white. When Nicole Kidman, Reese Witherspoon, and Laura Dern make pleas for more television starring women, it’s a lovely sentiment until you remember that the only black woman in Big Little Lies was Zoe Kravitz and there’s been three or four ensemble actress television shows starring white women since Charlie’s Angels. When Sex and the City was popular on HBO, we got a ton of knockoffs. Meanwhile, HBO has another female-led hit on its hands with Insecure, but there’ve been no influx of television series starring black women and HBO would rather greenlight bullshit like Confederate.

Meanwhile, out of all the black people who’ve won Emmys, the overwhelming majority are black men. Hollywood is a white world and it’s a man’s world. It usually benefits white men, white women, and then black men. There will plenty of more shows like Big Little Lies on the air, but will there be more like Being Mary Jane? Jane the Virgin? Fresh Off the Boat? Master of None? Asian-American actors are barely on television at all, and when they are, they usually portray terrorists in shows like 24 and Homeland.

True diversity in Hollywood means that it will have to step beyond the parameters of the usual suspects and start telling stories that look like the rest of America. I mean, it was absolutely shocking seeing some of the pairings chosen to give out awards—Gina Rodriguez and Shemar Moore, Riz Ahmed and Issa Rae, B.D. Wong and Matt Bomer (two openly gay men and one of them Asian?! You didn’t even see that on Looking)—and then realizing that you never see that kind of diversity on TV. Hell, these awards were on CBS and it was the most diverse thing you’ll ever see on this white as hell network.

Take this for instance: RuPaul and Tituss Burgess were included in two of Colbert’s comedic bits and they stole the show. Moonlight won an Oscar this year, but how long until we see a queer person of color hosting one of these damn things? No, Hollywood won’t know what real diversity is until people of color stop being bit parts or window dressing (like Superior Donuts’ Jermaine Fowler as the emcee) to make their awards shows look more “hip.”

Getting back to Gabrielle Union: Being Mary Jane has been on the air since 2013 and was created by Mara Brock Akil, a black woman and TV veteran. Union’s work has yet to be recognized by her peers. Will it ever be? Or do we only notice women of color like Viola Davis when they star in television shows on a white network like ABC, in a show written by a white man?

Source: Emmys: How to Get Away With the Bare Minimum of Diversity

New Creative Artists Agency study says diverse casting increases box office potential across all budgets – LA Times

The one thing Hollywood understands – money. Important study:

There’s been little debate over the moral arguments behind increasing diversity on- and off-screen in Hollywood, but the economic arguments haven’t always been so clear.

While women, people of color, LGBTQ folk and other historically marginalized communities in Hollywood continue to insist “diversity pays,” the box office success of films with diverse casts such as “Hidden Figures” ($230.1 million worldwide) and “Get Out” ($251.2 million worldwide) is inevitably deemed a “surprise.”

A new study and database crafted by Creative Artists Agency, however, is aiming to take some of the surprise out of box office performance, noting that across every budget level a film with a diverse cast outperforms a release not so diversified.

Additionally, the data, to be released during a private leadership conference dubbed Amplify on Wednesday in Laguna Beach, demonstrates that the average opening weekend for a film that attracts a diverse audience, often the result of having a diverse cast, is nearly three times on average a film with non-diverse audiences.

“One of the interesting things that the most successful movies share is that they’re broadly appealing to diverse audiences,” said Christy Haubegger, leader of CAA’s multicultural development group, who oversaw the study along with agency executive Talitha Watkins. “People want to see a world that looks like theirs.”

The impetus for the talent agency’s Motion Picture Diversity Index came following the release of the Motion Picture Assn. of America’s Theatrical Market Statistics report, which found that non-white moviegoers made up 49% of tickets sold in 2016, and 45% in 2015. Because the numbers outpace the 38% of the U.S. population who are non-white, CAA became interested in the audience makeup of the top-grossing films of the year. With additional data from comScore/Screen Engine’s PostTrak and Gracenote’s Studio System, the goal was to determine the correlative factors of diverse casting, diverse audiences and box office success.

CAA examined 413 theatrical films released from January 2014 through December 2016, detailing cast ethnicity for the top 10 billed actors per movie, a total of 2,800 people. They found that for the top 10 grossing movies in 2016, 47% of the opening weekend audience (and 45% in 2015) were people of color. Moreover, seven of the 10 highest-grossing movies from 2016 (and four from 2015’s top 10) delivered opening weekend audiences that were more than 50% non-white.

From there, the study notes that at every budget level, a film with a cast that is at least 30% non-white — CAA’s definition of a “truly diverse” film — outperforms a release that is not truly diverse in opening weekend box office. And on the audience side of things, the average opening weekend for a film that has a “truly diverse” audience, pegged at 38% to 70% non-white, is $31 million versus $12 million for films with non-diverse audiences.

The numbers suggest a more diverse cast brings a more diverse audience, which brings in more money.

The best-performing movie of the films evaluated, which had an approximately 40% diverse cast and a 38% diverse audience, was “Star Wars: The Force Awakens,” starring Daisy Ridley and John Boyega.

Also of note was the study’s evaluation of racial casting by genre. According to the study, the whitest genres casting-wise are horror and fantasy, and the most diverse genres are comedy and thriller.

As for what audiences want to see, white people are more likely to flock to drama and romance; black people to biopics and thrillers; Hispanics to horror and animation, and Asians to fantasy and animation.

“The hope is that seeing real numbers attached to the success of the inclusion of more voices and diverse casts will be further motivation for studios, networks and others to be really conscious of the opportunity,” said Richard Lovett, CAA’s president.

He highlighted the study as yet another way that the agency has made diversity a “moral imperative.” In the #OscarsSoWhite furor, many studios laid blame at the agencies’ collective feet.

But already in 2005, CAA began diversifying its internship pipeline by recruiting from top colleges with large black, Latino and female populations. In 2015, it created a traveling Road Show to brief film and television studios and networks on content that appeals to multicultural audiences and the availability of diverse artists working across all areas of the industry. It also continues to seek out and support diverse clients through various writing and leadership programs.

The efforts are paying off, as CAA’s revenue from multicultural clients increased 14% from 2015 to 2016, and the company was highlighted in a USC study for representing the largest share of female and African American directors.

Source: New CAA study says diverse casting increases box office potential across all budgets – LA Times

For a more diverse Oscars, Hollywood must go back to high school

Despite the major improvement in the diversity of those awarded Sunday night, a needed and good initiative for the next generation of film makers:

Over the last two years, much of the talk around Oscar season has been about the lack of diversity. The American Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, now headed by an African-American woman, has made several high-profile moves to increase the number of diverse Academy members. But to truly transform the industry, Mowat says, Hollywood has to go back to high school.

The program at Washington Prep helped the now 19-year-old Mariah Green land an internship at CBS, where she shadowed sitcom writers. Without the mentorship from Mowat and the other professionals, she says there’s almost no way she would be at Cal State Northridge, where she has founded a student production company.

“Most communities don’t have to feel discouraged, feeling like I don’t have time to pursue this because I could lose my life tomorrow,” Green says.

The problem, Mowat says, is that mentoring programs are surprisingly rare. The one that brings him to Washington Prep is organized and funded by the British film academy BAFTA; he says neither the American nor Canadian academies have anything comparable.

“Canada and the US … seems to be a lack of ability to train or willingness to mentor,” Mowat says. “Not everyone can go to school and go to those three- and four-year programs.”

Rachel Miller, a partner at the L.A. production company Haven Entertainment, is the founder of a year-old mentorship program called Film2Future that gives high school students the chance to make a short film with real pros. She says when it comes to diversity, the industry talks a good game, but often isn’t willing to fund initiatives that would actually address the problem.

Talk easier than action

“I think there’s a lot of inertia,” Miller says. “I think that it’s easy to talk about something than to do something. Doing something is hard. It’s tough.”

And it’s short-sighted, according to Franklin Leonard. He founded the Black List, a highly regarded yearly collection of top scripts that haven’t been made into films.

“These communities are historically being shut out of opportunities that would allow them to prove their talent,” Franklin says.

Bringing students from diverse backgrounds into the pipeline at a young age isn’t just good for their individual futures, it’s good for the industry as a whole, Franklin says, referring to a recent UCS study that suggests movies with diverse casts make more money at the box office.

“It’s good for the bottom line, and I think that when you look at Hidden Figures being the top box office grosser of the Best Picture nominees and you look at the extraordinary success of Moonlight, I think it’s really hard to argue,” Leonard says. “The least expensive and most significant thing that the industry could do to change its economics in a radical fashion is to embrace diversity wholeheartedly.”

But when many young students from poor backgrounds can’t access university arts programs, Miller says there’s a very limited window to really effect change.

“We really have to address the pipeline issue and the only way to do that is to start in high school; if we’re waiting until college, it’s just way too late,” Miller says. “People have either dropped out of high school or gone into more traditional fields. While I was at NYU I taught a public school in Manhattan, and the lack of resources are shocking. So I think this idea in Hollywood that we’re suddenly going to find diverse kids that go into Harvard or NYU or USC is a bit crazy. We have to start in ninth grade and help kids who are going to public schools who don’t have computers or don’t have Wi-Fi, who don’t have art programs to help them be competitive, help them find their way through, and help them find the spark.”

Just ask Elgin James. Not many directors in Hollywood come from as troubled a background as he. In his youth, he ended up homeless. In 2009, he served a year in prison for gang-related activities. But he found his escape in movies and, as an adult, moved to Hollywood where the 45-year-old has written and directed for television and film.

“I would have killed to have this program when I was a kid,” James says. “To know that there’s another way to be seen and to be heard in the world rather than just causing damage and havoc or just disappearing. So if there’s anything that I can give it’s that if I can do this, anybody can do this.”

Source: For a more diverse Oscars, Hollywood must go back to high school – Entertainment – CBC News